Person X Environment in the Peer Domain: Parenting Strategies and Preadolescent Physiological Responses in the Context of Peer Stress
Type of Degreedissertation
Human Development and Family Studies
MetadataShow full item record
During preadolescence, concerns about maintaining and developing friendships, gaining peer acceptance, and avoiding peer victimization become central concerns. The transition to middle school can create or exacerbate these concerns. Parents may be in a position to help preadolescents navigate these developmental and ecological challenges, promote positive peer relationships, and help with peer problems. Yet the effectiveness of parental involvement might depend on preadolescents’ physiological responses to peer stress. The present study investigated whether parenting in the peer domain (facilitation, directing, problem-solving) predicted preadolescent peer adjustment (peer victimization, friendship support, peer acceptance) across the transition to middle school and whether preadolescents’ physiological responses to peer stress, including respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), RSA reactivity (RSAR), skin conductance level (SCL), and SCL reactivity (SCLR), moderated the association between parenting and peer adjustment. Participants included 123 preadolescents and one parent and teacher per preadolescent. At Time 1 (summer before middle school transition), preadolescents and parents participated in a laboratory visit, during which preadolescents’ physiological responses to lab-based peer stress were assessed. Preadolescents completed questionnaires about friendship support and peer victimization; parents completed questionnaires about peer-related parenting behaviors. The spring before the laboratory visit, teachers completed questionnaires about preadolescents’ peer acceptance and peer victimization. At Time 2 (nine months after participants began middle school), preadolescents and teachers completed the same peer adjustment questionnaires. Analyses revealed that peer-related parenting behaviors were mostly uncorrelated with each other. Results also suggested few direct effects of peer-related parenting on peer adjustment across the middle school transition. However, interactions between parenting and preadolescents’ physiological responses to peer stress predicted peer adjustment in several cases. As anticipated, facilitation and problem-solving predicted better peer adjustment among preadolescents with low RSA and high SCL/R, respectively; directing predicted better peer adjustment among preadolescents with low RSAR and low SCLR and poorer peer adjustment among preadolescents with high RSAR and high SCLR. Unexpectedly, directing predicted better peer adjustment among preadolescents with high SCL. Thus, optimal peer-related parenting behaviors may depend on compatibility with preadolescents’ physiological responses to peer stress. Findings and implications for peer-related parenting behaviors, preadolescents’ physiological responses, and preadolescents' peer adjustment are discussed.